Design

From Blog to Book – How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality

My Alt Summit panel mates were Chronicle author and artist Julia Rothman, Design*Sponge founder and author Grace Bonney, Chronicle author and artist Amy Butler, and Lia Ronnen, an executive editor at Artisan Books.
Photo by Justin Hackworth.

On Wednesday you heard from my colleague Guinevere about all the inspiration we unearthed at Altitude Design Summit, the design blogging conference we just attended. And if you follow me on Twitter, I apologize for bombarding you with Alt this and Alt that all week long. But I met so many smart, creative people—I’m exhilarated and exhausted all at the same time, and completely abuzz with new ideas for Chronicle!

I spoke on a panel (with my dynamo peers above) about how to turn your blog (or any creative idea) into a book. We shared lots of specific advice on how to come up with a good idea, write a proposal, navigate a typical contract, and what to expect from the design, production, and promotion processes.

If you were there, thanks for listening and for taking the initiative to tell me about your ideas afterward. I’m always looking for smart new concepts, so kudos for not being shy! And please keep ‘em coming.

For everyone who wasn’t able to attend, I’ve distilled my tips into these key takeaways. Since it’s what I’m most commonly asked, I focused here on how to come up with a winning idea and put together an attractive proposal. If you dream of writing a book or working with Chronicle on an idea, I hope you’ll find direction here. Identify your next steps of action and Make. It. Happen.

By the way, the uber talented Julia Rothman illustrated these beautiful slides for our presentation. Isn’t she the best??

How to Come Up With a Good Book Idea

1. Research and read your competition. Likely the most common piece of advice you’ll hear, but the most important place to start. Go to bookstores, your favorite gift shops in your neighborhood, and Anthropologie or Williams Sonoma or wherever you dream of seeing your book and spend time getting to know the books in your category. Identify what you love about likeminded books. Make lists of what they offer so you can figure out what you can offer that someone else hasn’t already. There’s nothing worse than pitching an editor only to find out she’s just published something very similar. Also look on Amazon to see what reviewers are saying about your competition—maybe they’ll point to a missed opportunity.

2. Think about value and identify an impulse to purchase. Spend time thinking about what value you can offer and how that presents a need to buy. A publisher is going to be thinking about the buying occasion for your book—why would someone (someone who doesn’t know and love you) buy your book? And a consumer is likely going to invest in content they can refer back to again and again. What do they get from it? The last five books you bought, why did you buy them? Did they teach you a skill? Did the package have an irresistible object quality you put proudly on display? Did they make you laugh—more than once? Was it to gift to someone on a specific occasion like Mother’s Day?

How to Make Yourself Attractive in Proposals

1. Write a formal business letter meets email to your best friend. Convey the spirit of your idea and your personality, while also showing me you’ve done your homework. The spirit part—bloggers are lucky because you’ve already vetted your tone and content on your readers. If your blog’s funny and you want to write a funny book, write a funny pitch. Reading your proposal should give me a real sense of what it will be like to read your book. Then the business letter part is pretty straightforward.

2. Fully but succinctly hit the high notes, including:
       - An overview of your idea. Your editor will have to pitch the concept to a roomful of people, and ultimately the people selling your book will have 30 seconds to pitch it to store buyers. I’m looking for a smart one-liner sales handle plus a succinct description of the concept. And I’d be grateful if you’ve crafted a perfectly clever one for me!
       - Your bio and blog stats. Also include how you plan to reach your audience and promote the book.
       - Quantified description of the book’s realistic audience. While we like you to quantify your audience, unfortunately not all 85 million moms in America are going to come to your business book for moms. Think less about the census and more about your realistic ability to reach potential consumers. For example, “the 12,000 people who follow me on Twitter, especially entrepreneurial women who have left their full time jobs and want to either earn an income or feel fulfilled creatively.”
       - A list of competitive books. Focus on what’s been published in the past 5 years and specify how yours differs.
       - An outline or annotated list of chapters.
       - A sample chapter or two. This is really important—writing a sample will teach you a lot about what your book is and your ability to sustain the concept or tone across more than just the description. And for a visual book, it will help us understand the balance between text and art.

3. Mock it up. Make it pretty. If you want to work with Chronicle, you know we’re visual people. The more visually compelling your proposal, the more interested we are. If your blog’s crafty or about design, make sure your proposal is full of images. To me there’s nothing worse than getting a craft, fashion, design, or art book proposal with no images! You can look at what products we publish and fit your work into our formats. If you’re thinking beyond books (stationery, games, kits, other gift products—I hope you are!), a super simple thing to do is to take an existing product of ours and make a physical mockup of your proposed product. This always gets my attention and I’m surprised how few people do it.

4. Show how your brand expands beyond one book. Chronicle wants to invest in authors who have more than one book in them. So you do definitely want to fully develop that one main book idea (and actually it drives me nuts when someone just proposed a laundry list of unbaked ideas because it makes me think you haven’t thought it through). But you might also want to show us how your brand extends beyond that first book.

5. No typos. We’re editors. Seriously, no typos at all.

To read some audience reactions and get even more snippets of advice from our Blog to Book panel, check out this easy-to-follow Twitter timeline that Guinevere (the brains behind Chronicle’s Twitter feed) put together using Storify.

And if you have any more questions for me on the best way to pitch a project to Chronicle, by all means, ask away in the comments below.

Yours in the pursuit of good ideas,

Kate Woodrow
Editor

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40 Comments

  • Jenny Batt January 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Kate, I just want to THANK YOU, for the inspiring panel at ALT. It was amazing! I learned so much. I started a blog because I wanted to write a book and I think I am finally ready to present my ideas. I just had that "light bulb" go off tying everything I wanted together. If I am a DIY blog, and I wanted to include samples of projects and additional products, would pitching my idea via regular mail be the best option? Thanks again!

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow January 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Good question, Jenny! When it comes to craft, we *love* to see physical samples. You can send it to my attention at Chronicle Books, 680 2nd Street, SF CA 94107. (If you want your samples returned, please include postage for the return shipping.)

      If you don't have physical samples you can part with, the more photographs the better. They don't need to be professionally shot – just good enough to give us a sense of your aesthetics and skills.

      Reply

  • Jeanette Larson January 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Dear Teen Me is a blog that is being turned into a book.

    Reply

  • Charmaine January 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I'm very sad that I have missed the Alt Design Summit this year. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful follow-up, Kate. This is extremely helpful and inspiring!

    Reply

  • Brenda Biondo January 27, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Kate, thanks so much for the great overview on putting together a book proposal! A question for you: What's the best way to submit to you or another Chronicle editor if I have a whole website already created that outlines all the elements of my proposed book, including a sample layout and the pool of available illustrations? (It's all viewable at http://www.OnceUponAPlayground.com.) I also have a separate text document that covers all the material you mentioned in your list of tips. Should I print everything out and mail it in, or contact an editor by email with a short intro, a link to the website, and an attached document? Thanks for your insight!

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow February 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Hi Brenda, I like to have all the content of your proposal in one place, and not on a website or in links. For me an emailed PDF or a mailed printed document works best. I don't get a chance to review proposals as they come in. I gather them all up and then review in chunks, usually once a week or once every two weeks.

      Reply

      • Brenda Biondo February 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm

        Kate, thanks so much for the information and for helping make the whole submission process much clearer. It's a rare opportunity to get feedback directly from someone in the publishing field, so it's very appreciated. I'll certainly take your advice and put together a PDF for you in the near future.

        Reply

  • alisabarry January 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    HI Kate,

    Thanks for the insider ideas on how to brand a brilliant book idea! The question I have is once I've put all of these good ideas into a compelling proposal and presentation, how do I get in front of the right people? {you!}

    Can you share a few tips on this topic?

    with thanks!
    Alisa

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow February 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

      You can do some pretty good sleuthing online. Look at the spines of the books you love and target those publishers. If it's a recent book in a likeminded category, look at the acknowledgments – the author likely (hopefully! ;) thanked her editor and that might be a good place to start. Read a publisher's submission guidelines online. If you don't know someone by name, you can also mail your package to the attention of "FOOD EDITOR" or "CRAFTS EDITOR" (or say that in the subject line of your email to the general submissions email address) and it will find its way to the proper person. At Chronicle, we review all unsolicited submissions and are always passing things around to other editors. If it's a match, it will find its way to the right person.

      Reply

  • Jody Al-Saigh January 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I wish I had seen this sooner. I recently sent you all at Chronicle a proposal for my book about photo organizing. I love all your books for their design sense and stylish quality. I sent my proposal via email since your submission guidelines indicated greener was better. Would it be helpful to send the real thing? Also…how long does it generally take for someone (such as myself *wink*) to hear back if my proposal is accepted? Thanks! :-)

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow February 1, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Hi Jody – we do review all unsolicited submissions and using the general submissions email works well. It can take us up to 6-8 weeks to get through our stacks. If we're interested, you'll definitely hear! If you'd like, you can resubmit your proposal to the submissions email and say ATTN: KATE WOODROW in the subject line. I'll take a look.

      Reply

  • Helena Juhasz January 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Love the valuable tips. I'll take them to heart <3!

    Reply

  • Allyn January 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Thank you for the incredibly helpful tips! It is really helping me organize my ideas. I am still relatively new to the blog community but have plans for that space and my work. I have a couple of ideas for a children’s story/ activity book. Do you have any additional advice for submitting a proposal for a children’s book?

    Reply

  • Gabriela Delworth January 30, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Hello Kate,

    Pleasure to meet you! This is such a great post and very informative. Thank you!
    Great timing! I am actually finishing a book proposal for Chronicle right now.

    My question to you would be how many mock ups would be ideal to go with the book proposal? Would one per chapter be enough?
    Is it better presented via email or by mail?

    Also, would we in any way be involved in the design of graphics and photography?

    Thank you!

    Gabriela Delworth
    Author, Designer & Certified Instructor http://www.gabrieladelworth.com http://gabrieladelworthdesigns.blogspot.com

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow February 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Gabriela. There's no rule around this. I'm looking to get a general sense of the quality of your work and the aesthetic feel of the book you're proposing. So I always say the more visuals the better, but at a minimum you want to show at least a quarter of your work.

      I personally have no preference between email and mail. If it's email, make sure there's just one consolidated attachment, not lots of links or tons of files to download. Thanks for reading and good luck with your proposal.

      Reply

  • Jenean Morrison January 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    This was such a great class at Alt! I'm so happy to have been able to attend. You guys all did a truly wonderful job! I left feeling both informed and inspired. Thanks so much!

    Reply

  • Posters Printing February 1, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Indeed an amazing presentation. Kudos to Julia Rothman!

    Reply

  • Catherine Cole February 3, 2012 at 10:51 am

    What a killer panel! Kudos to the stellar content and spreading the good word of creativity.

    Reply

  • Carlita February 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Hi Kate, I'm a new writer and I have so many ideas but I'm sort of stuck on what my first book should be about (fiction/nonfiction). I've read all kinds of online tips on this, but I would really appreciate your feedback. Also how do I find a publisher and is it a way that I can give someone a description of what I want to write about so that I can know if it's something worth writing? Thank you so much for the information that you've posted it was by far the most constructive info I've come across thus far!

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow February 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Hi Carlita – it's hard to say which direction you should start with. What's the book you most want to write? It's a lot of work, so it should be the thing you want to spend the next year of your life working on. What topic gets the most enthusiastic response from your blog readers, friends, and strangers? Use the smart people in your life as a sounding board. Spend some serious time thinking about it and commit to one direction before pitching publishers. When I get a sort of wishy washy proposal (it could be this, or it could be that), it makes me think the idea's not totally thought through.
      In terms of finding the right publisher, when you do your competition research look at who publishes your favorite books in the category you're writing about. Familiarize yourself with their recent books to get a sense of how your book could fit on their list (akin to, but not redundant of, their books).
      You can write a shorter "one sheet" – a query – to find out if an editor's interested to see more. But I personally prefer to respond to a fully developed proposal like I've described above – it gives me a much clearer sense of what I'm responding to. And it's a valuable process for you to go through – writing a full proposal will help you refine the idea.

      Reply

  • stacy February 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I don't have any book ideas, nor have I ever thought about being published. However, I stumbled across this post and just wanted to pay you a compliment. I think it is extremely generous of you to offer such invaluable information to people that are interested in doing so. It is very refreshing to see someone in your position that is so willing to help. I wish you continued success, as I truly believe those that "give" will "receive". That's all…..

    Reply

  • Jim Henkens February 6, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Hi Kate,

    I am a photographer and just shot a new book called Grow Cook Eat by Willie Galloway. I would like to send you copy, can you please tell me where to send?

    Also, I would love to meet with the appropriate person at Chronicle Books regarding the possibility of working together.

    Chronicle Books has published some of my favorite books and I would be very interested in presenting my portfolio in person, I just don’t know who that is.

    Kind regards,

    Jim Henkens

    Reply

  • Patty February 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Wonderful post and wonderful illustrations–I agree, they are beautiful and engaging. I love Chronicle Books!

    Reply

  • @lsvdesign February 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I couldn't make it to Alt Summit (I'm a new mama) but was following along on twitter, so I was thrilled to see this post!

    I'm a graphic designer and huge fan of Chronicle for many years. I have a few book ideas in the works, but didn't know where to start. These tips — and the comments/replies — are fantastic. Amazing. Kate, thank you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge! I hope to be in touch soon :)

    Reply

  • Tiffany February 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I found this post to be very helpful to me! My dream is to publish a cookbook sooner than later. What do you guys look for in terms or recipes and recipe photos? How many samples so you want of each? I was also wondering if I have to have the book designed the way I want it already or do you help with the overall design of the book?

    Thanks!

    Tiffany

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow March 9, 2012 at 10:51 am

      Hi Tiffany!

      I chatted with one of cookbook editors. Here are some tips (and a lot of these apply to craft books as well).

      If you're submitting a proposal, we would want to see an outline and get a sense of the overall organization of the cookbook. We'd love to hear about you and why you think your topic is distinctive from what else is already out there – and how you can reach your audience. We like to see a sample of 3-5 full recipes with your proposal. Including photos is optional. If you want to be considered as the photographer, you can direct us to your portfolio online. In terms of design, we design all our cookbooks in-house so no need to design your proposal.

      Thanks for reading, and good luck!

      Reply

  • katy March 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Wow! First of all, thank you for the stellar insight!
    -Just curious-
    I have an idea I am wanting to pitch, and I am working on an example. Although, to complete the project in the capacity in which it would have the most value would require more equipment than I am equipped. When working on an idea with the Chronicle, how important is it to have the process down completely? Is it possible to pitch an idea and then work on the completed product?
    Does this make sense?
    Thank you for any additional information. :)

    Reply

    • Kate Woodrow March 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Hi Katy,
      Thanks for reading! It is possible to pitch an idea that's still in development. Absolutely. But the more you can help us visualize your project, the better. I'm not sure what category you're working in or what this equipment might be, but I would imagine you'd want to know the complete method and result so you could pitch the project confidently. Writing a book is a huge undertaking, and you want to be sure you can sustain the concept for the length of the work, and that you're capable of executing it in a way that works with your lifestyle and budget. You just want to know what you're getting into before you're on the hook for deliverables. Know what I mean?

      Reply

  • Hannah Stevenson July 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Hi Kate,
    Thanks for all of the insight you have given here. I have read and re-read this article probably twenty times over the last few months. I have just self published a Paper Doll coloring book but would like to see if I get it published through Chronicle or even possibly do some postcards, a colored set of dolls etc. I know this is out of the realm of blog to book but I wonder if I should go to childrens books or another department that focuses more on products rather than books. Also, I have a video that explains my dolls etc. and wondered if that is a good thing to send or if that is more of a no-no. I know this is an old post so I hope you still receive this question and look forward to hearing your response. Thanks again for all of the effort and knowledge you have shared.

    Here is the link to my video pitch for kickstarter, blog and shop: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1448420968/pa
    lilyandthistle@blogspot.com and
    minimepaperdolls.com

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply

  • childrens books January 27, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    'Spend time thinking about what value you can offer and how that presents a need to buy.'

    Some day I wish to write a book for children and the knowledge you have shared is very helpful!

    Thank you.

    Reply

  • Mbeko November 30, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Hi There
    I am an author from South Africa who has more than 50 books for school and have been published in the country. My books are both in my native language which is isiXhosa and English. I have just written many books that are awaiting to be published. I would like to share them with the international audience. Can my work be published overseas even though I reside in South Africa? If that is possible do I have to send all the ten books I've written to you with proposals.

    Reply

  • Mark December 8, 2013 at 2:30 am

    Hi Kate,
    This has been a joy to read. The article as well as your helpful responses. I have a couple of questions; I have a gift book project I'd like to propose with a specific illustrator in mind. (She has actually worked with Chronicle Books in the past). Would she need to be part of the proposal, or can I just suggest the direction along with some of her work within the proposal? Also, my proposal is for a series of books. Would it be best to go into detail on one of them and just list the rest? Thanks. So helpful.

    Reply

    • @wirechairs January 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      (I'm responding for Kate, who's currently on maternity leave – and PROFUSE apologies for delay in getting back to you!)

      Illustrator: your suggesting a particular one is great; we may or may not think they're the right fit, given the wide range of folks we work with.

      RE: series pitch, yes, detail on the first/principal title being pitched is what you'd need to submit, along with listing the rest (and again, we'd give our feedback re: series potential and other subjects proposed, and it could end up being a one-off deal with option to publish more in series proposed, or, of course, deal could be for multiple projects as well).

      Best wishes,

      Peter, Marketing

      Reply

  • Terra June 8, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Hi Kate,
    Congratulations on your new arrival!!

    I was wondering if Chronicle publishes previously self-published projects?

    I created and self-published THE EDITOR, a blogging planner (the editor.terrablack.com) in 2011 and want to republish this and other projects under this brand. I’ve recently submitted a proposal and sample but I’m wondering if it helps or hurts my chances of Chronicle accepting the project if I’ve self-published?

    Thank you for your time and again, all the best to your family.

    Terra

    Reply

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